Emotional return to his roots for Tukalo
A lauded hero of Scotland’s 1990 Grand Slam, Iwan Tukalo has recently embarked on a journey to help those whose own experiences would surpass anything done on a rugby pitch.
Through working first with a project called 100 World Legends, as well as charities Breaking The Chains and Jeeps for Peace, Iwan has assisted in delivering critical supplies to the front line in Ukraine, at the same time managing to meet relatives for the first time in his ancestral home.
Iwan takes up the story: “My father, in 1943 ‘volunteered’ for the Galicia Division, supposedly made up of volunteer Ukranians, on the premise that they would be fighting the Russians in World War II.”
“As it turns out, they were forced into the German army aged 18 when the Germans invaded Ukraine. So he fought in the Second World War, and was captured interred in a Prisoner Of War camp in Rimini towards the end of the war.
“He was then transferred to the POW camp just outside Edinburgh, at East Fortune. When the war ended, he was working in the local community at the paper mills in Balerno and was offered the chance to stay.
“My mother was Italian and came over after the war. My Dad used to go and get his cigarettes from a little café called The Duchess in Corstorphine, so that’s where they met – not far from Murrayfield as it turns out.
“Fast forward a few years, when Gorbachev relaxed things in the Soviet Union, my uncle came and visited – that was the first time they’d seen one another in 50 years.
“He went back and we gave him a load of things to sell on the black market, to raise money to build a house in the village. He sent a picture along with a letter, around 1990, saying he got home safely.
“Dad wanted to go back to Ukraine to visit for the first time since he was 18. I said ‘look, you don’t have a passport’ which we managed to source, and he was due to go.
“Shortly after, he needed to in for a triple heart bypass and never woke up. He never made it. I was with him when he passed away and I made a vow that I would fulfil it for him.”
With fiery determination, a couple of years back Iwan set about planning the trip to his father’s homeland; a pilgrimage to his ownbloodline. Set to travel to Ukraine in 2020, Covid put a spanner in the works, before a further scuppering by way of Russia waging war on their neighbours in early 2022.
Pictured (left to right): Gordon Hunter, Ewan Tukalo, Fin Calder and Colin Deans during their recent, emotional trip to Ukraine.
“I got involved with a couple of charities: Breaking Chains and Jeeps for Peace. I got into touch with Jeeps for Peace and asked them to donate a couple of vehicles for Breaking Chains, which threw up the opportunity to travel to Ukraine to deliver some vehicles,” Iwan explains.
“I told Stewart Ford, who runs Jeeps For Peace, that my Dad was from a little village called Nyzhniv, and there was silence: “We pass that village”, he informed me, so it was a no-brainer. We ended going to the village and got to meet my auntie and some relatives for the very first time. So it was a real emotional rollercoaster.”
The ‘we’ to whom Iwan refers is former Scotland captains Finlay Calder and Colin Deans, as well as 1984 Grand Slam winner Gordon Hunter, all of whom signed up to the drive to Ukraine with their friend, delivering vehicles and vital goods to communities in desperate need.
“When we pulled into the village, we came into a car park and I was scanning the villagers to find my relatives. I was saying to Fin ‘I don’t know how I’m going to be able to deal with this emotionally’ and looked over and he was bawling his eyes out – it hit him so hard.
“I said ‘Fin, I’m the one who is meant to be in bits here!’
“We went to the house where my father grew up; walked around the cemetery where my uncle was buried. It brought it all home.”
It’s been 33 years since Iwan was a part of Scotland’s triumphant Grand Slam journey, doing the Tukalo family name proud. He’s now done it again in a different manner, but this one will be even more special.
As part of telling their story, Iwan and Colin, who featured at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, delivered the match ball for August’s fixture against Georgia at Scottish Gas Murrayfield.
You can find more information on how to support Breaking the Chains here: https://breakingthechainsinternational.org
And details on donating to Jeeps For Peace can be found here: https://justgiving.com/crowdfunding/jeepsforpeace
Pictured: Iwan and Colin delivering the match ball at Scottish Gas Murrayfield ahead of Scotland v Georgia, August 2023.